Walmart divides Black Friday deals into 3 separate events that kick off online

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An employee works on a display ahead of Black Friday at a Walmart store in Chicago, November 20, 2018.

Kamil Krzaczynski | Reuters

For shoppers who can’t part with Black Friday traditions, Walmart said Wednesday that it still plans to have in-store events featuring deep discounts.

Yet the holiday sales days will come with pandemic-related precautions. Stores will open at 5 a.m. local time. Customers must line up single-file before they enter. Stores will limit the number of people inside. Employees will distribute sanitized shopping carts. And some, dubbed health ambassadors, will greet shoppers and remind them to put on a mask.

Walmart is planning to take steps to discourage crowds and nudge some bargain hunters online, too. The company said it will split up Black Friday into three different holiday sales events, staggered throughout the month of November. Each will begin on its website and hit stores a few days later.

Customers can also pick up purchases at the store without stepping inside by using curbside pickup.

Scott McCall, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., said the company wants to deliver on low prices, convenience and safety — no matter how customers choose to shop.

“We’ve been very thoughtful as we planned this year’s event,” he said in a news release. “By spreading deals out across multiple days and making our hottest deals available online, we expect the Black Friday experience in our stores will be safer and more manageable for both our customers and our associates.”

Walmart’s first Black Friday event will start online Nov. 4 and in stores Nov. 7 and feature toys, electronics and home products. The second event, focused on electronics such as TVs, smartphones, computers and tablets along with some items from other merchandise categories, will begin online Nov. 11 and in stores Nov. 14. And the third event will kick off online Nov. 25 and in stores Nov. 27 — the same day as the usual post-Thanksgiving shopping event. It will have a range of items from electronics and toys to apparel and seasonal decor.

Retailers have been cautious about their holiday sales outlook, as they try to predict shoppers’ appetite for celebrating the season and exchanging gifts during a global health crisis and a recession. The National Retail Federation, which usually puts out its forecast in early October, has yet to weigh in.

Deloitte and Accenture, however, have shared mixed pictures of how the typically busy shopping period may play out. Deloitte predicted that holiday retail sales will increase between 1% and 1.5%, but said that will hinge on how much wealthy Americans splurge and how much lower-income families pull back. Customers surveyed by Accenture, however, said they plan to spend an average of about $540 — nearly $100 less than last year.

Major retailers, including Walmart, Target and Best Buy, have tried to encourage customers to start their holiday shopping earlier than usual by starting sales events in October. Walmart began its “Big Save Event” on Sunday, just a few days before the start of Amazon Prime Day on Tuesday. Walmart’s event runs through Thursday.

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